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This question is a follow-up to Why was Torah sheBal Peh not allowed to be Written? and Why can people write Torah sheBal Peh nowadays?

As discussed in the above questions, there were many reasons why the Oral Torah was not meant to be written down. Eventually, due to the fear of forgetting the Torah, it became permitted to write it down, and many seforim have been written since the 9th century CE. Where does participation in Torah websites (such as this one) fit into this picture? Does it go further than the original hetter by writing and publishing so much material from any person? Or perhaps it fits more with the nature of Oral learning because of its discussion nature?

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I have no sources and the following is mere speculation:

Even before the heter to write Oral Torah was enacted, people certainly had notes written down for their own personal study. (See Rambam, intro. to Mishna Torah.) And one can only assume that sh'ailos and t'shuvos were written back and forth between communities that contained rulings and explanations of the Oral Torah.

So what is the difference between those writings and the writings that were prohibited before the heter? I would say the difference is that the notes and t'shuvos were written and kept with the intention of personal reference and study and not for public consumption. We do not find that books of sh'ailos ut'shuvos were written and published, since these were considered private texts, to be viewed by the intended recipients.

The books we have today, on the other hand, are texts that are written and published with the intention of being read by a public audience. They are permitted to write so that Torah not be forgotten, or even just for the purpose providing texts from which one may study Torah. (See here.) Even the published sh'ailos ut'shuvos are intended for public use and study, which makes them part of the now-written Oral Torah.

Now, where do this and similar websites fit into this picture? If this was strictly a question-answer site for personal rulings and explanations of Torah ideas directed for personal use by the asker, it would probably not even be a utilization of chazal's original heter. It would just be a modernized version of the old sh'aila- t'shuva method. However, since all answers are online for public viewing, and not only that, but intended to be a method of Torah learning for others interested in the topics addressed here, it would seem to be at the same level as all the other contemporary published Torah books. Even more so the non-Q&A oriented sites, like those that simply publish Torah content online.

The only way I can see to go "further than the original heter" is to publish material that contains Oral Torah, but is not particularly intended for Torah study and reference. This site would certainly not fall under that category.

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But even if its being used, perhaps online takes it too far. Originally, it was just handwritten manuscripts so there was still a lot of oral learning. The printing press changed some things, and the internet goes even further. Perhaps its too much? – Ariel K Jun 5 '11 at 17:15
Are you trying to say that the internet goes farther than the original heter because of its wider availability? I don't think that something's level of availability affects its status of Oral Torah. Virtually every Jewish home contains a set of the Talmud. Does that make the Talmud less muttar as written Oral Torah than the Mechilta, or any other published Torah text that not as many people own, just because it's more available? – jake Jun 5 '11 at 17:23
@jake "Virtually every Jewish home contains a set of the Talmud." HaLevai. – Seth J Jan 27 '12 at 19:59
up vote 1 down vote accepted

See Why was Torah sheBal Peh not allowed to be Written? for some of the reasons why Torah sheB'al Peh wasn't supposed to be written.

  • Exclusivity - Online is even worse than in books, as its open to everyone. But perhaps we are no longer worried about this issue?
  • Flexibility - The original texts (e.g. the Mishnah) imposed a certain structure that gave up on something (but was still necessary). The internet does not seem to cause this restriction, rather it allows people to learn in more ways than before.
  • Losing focus on the Written Torah - This also is a more of an issue with authoritative texts than online discussions. It seems unlikely that people would analyze these discussions instead of more primary sources. Also, the whole point of such sites is to discuss these issues, not to create an alternative text.

Perhaps for technical reasons also, online sites avoid the problems. The prohibition was to write the Torah, but maybe typing data to a hard drive somewhere does not violate this prohibition.

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